First day of class: Meet Your Teacher

Most teachers, I’m sure, make sure to leave time during the first class to take student questions, primarily about the syllabus and the shape of the course ahead. But it’s worth underlining the importance of student involvement right from the start, letting them know that your desire to hear their questions and concerns is not just a superficial courtesy (“Any questions? OK then…).

Here’s a way to encourage students to take ownership of the course. After a brief introduction, distribute the syllabus, and perhaps highlight a few important points. Then divide the students into groups of four and ask them to take time to review the syllabus thoroughly. Have each group come up with questions for you: about the syllabus, about the subject matter, about your qualifications to teach the course, about your expectations from them. Emphasize that a wide variety of questions relevant to the course are acceptable, not just strict matters of course policy. You can have each group choose a representative to ask their questions, if you don’t want the discussion to become a free-for-all.

The exercise, by insisting upon student questions, will encourage those students perhaps too shy or just not usually disposed to asking questions in class to speak up. It will expose any ambiguities in your course materials pretty quickly. It will, with luck, establish your classroom as a place where students are invited to speak regularly. Ideally, as well, it will signal that you care about their expectations and opinions about the course and are planning to work with them throughout the semester to create a successful course.  -DG

Source: "13. Play 'Meet Your Teacher.'" Robert Magnan, ed. 147 Practical Tips for Teaching Professors. Madison: Atwood, 1990. 5-6.

Give your students a pause button

Here’s a great, simple tip that offers a non-invasive way for your students to exercise a bit more control over the way a class proceeds. Early in the semester, tell your students that you never want to leave anyone behind, that it is important to you that students are able to keep up with your teaching. Work with the students to come up with a signal—maybe a hand raised, maybe tapping on a desk—that they can use when they want you to stop for a minute. A student might signal if she needs to catch up with her note-taking, or because she has questions about something you’ve said.

Essentially, this is an easy way to offer some control to the students. When we read, we often pause to make sense of the material. Sometimes we read a passage a second or third time. Why not offer your students something of the same control over course content? These time-outs encourage students to more actively process the material, and goes some way to ensure that they’re not just sitting there, passively receiving your words.  -DG

Source: "29. Give Your Students a Pause Button." Robert Magnan, ed. 147 Practical Tips for Teaching Professors. Madison: Atwood, 1990. 12.